Recorded: 09 Apr 2001
I was an undergraduate at Harvard and I had reached my junior year. And I was in a state of confusion about my major and I had come in to Harvard thinking I was going to be a math major. But I really wasn’t relating intimately to math. I began to think that maybe I should go to medical school. I was getting an interest in possibly working on human disease, I thought that would do the world some good or something like that. I had to sign up for a class called Bio II, because if you were thinking of medicine you had to take biology. And it turned out that one of the lecturers in this class, which was in the spring of 1963, was Jim Watson. And I guess I had heard of him because he won the Nobel Prize already and was a young faculty member. I didn’t have much interest in Nobel Prizes and wouldn’t have paid much attention to that, actually. I was mostly interested in other things, like my social life. But I went into that class, and I remember sitting there in the second row on the edge of the row, waiting for this person to appear to give a lecture. And he came out and at the end of the hour, that was it. That was it for me; I was in love with molecular biology, and it lasted for the rest of my life.
Nancy Hopkins is a developmental biologist and the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at MIT. Working under Jim Watson and Mark Ptashne, Hopkins earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1971. As a postdoctoral fellow she moved to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where she continued working under Watson researching DNA tumor viruses. In 1973 she joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in the Center for Cancer Research, where she researched the mechanisms of replication and leukemogenesis by RNA tumor viruses for 17 years.
Hopkins has also led an ongoing effort to end discrimination against women in science. In 1995 she was appointed Chair of the first Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT, and in 2000 she was appointed Co-Chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT. Hopkins co-authored the fourth edition of Molecular Biology of the Gene. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.